Watching the children of our children–our grandchildren–fills us with thoughts about the meaning of life. We find ourselves more concerned about our environment, nuclear proliferation, war, politics, healthcare, and the deficit we are leaving for our next generations to pay. Those issues, though always smoldering, felt relatively dormant during the years of getting an education, raising a family, and working. Now, with a little more time to think, we also have more time to worry.
In addition to the existential concerns we have as elders (good grief, not us!), we also have the day to day challenges of being grandparents to families that are changing (that’s the politically correct way to say breaking up and reforming). Like many grandparents, we find ourselves frustrated and impotent; watching people we love make decisions that may have detrimental, yet unknown effects well into the future. At the same time, we have to say that our challenges are mild compared to those of other grandparents that we see in the work we do.
But, the similarities are there. Many grandparents are being asked to be quasi parents to adult children, with some of the same responsibilities, but none of the power. These young adults often ask for financial help from their parents, sometimes as innocent victims of the economy; other times, seduced into excessive spending by our culture of entitlement.
And grandparents increasingly are being asked to assume greater care of their grandchildren. In a nationwide trend, about eight percent of American children are being raised by their grandparents. That’s about 6 million children. Furthermore, many other grandparents are being asked to step in to help provide regular daycare for working parents.
These changing roles pose challenges for all concerned. Grandparents want to help and many times they must and should. At the same time, grandparents often harbor worries about how much help is too much. It’s all too easy to cross the line between providing truly needed assistance and fostering excessive dependency and lack of financial responsibility. When does helping morph into blurred boundaries and an enmeshed entanglement of lives? When do helpers’ efforts become self destructive, possibly even financially ruinous, in the long run?
There are no quick and easy solutions to these dilemmas. However, we encourage open dialogues about these issues between adult children and their parents. Failing to talk and work through these concerns will inevitably lead to resentment, hidden hostility, and possibly increased family instability. If either party refuses to talk, some distance and disengagement for a while may be an unfortunate necessity.
We’d love to hear how our readers have handled these evolving matters of the modern world. And we remain grateful for having the joys and challenges of our family.